Perfect Partnership: Why Hollywood & Brands Flock To New Orleans For Essence Festival
“Essence Festival is the largest festival in the world,” said Michelle Eubanks, President of Essence Communications, during a room packed full of sponsors, celebrity guests, influencers and media personalities at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans to kick off the 2018 Essence Festival.
She’s not lying either! The annual Essence Festival in New Orleans draws larger numbers than any other festival with an audience of over a half-million attendees.
Comparatively speaking, the only other festival in the United States that comes close is Austin City Limits with 450,000 attendees. And here’s how other festivals rank: Lollapalooza (300,000); Coachella (198,000); South by Southwest [SXSW] (85,000); and Bonnaroo (80,000).
With the type of numbers that Essence Festival boasts, its no wonder that sponsors like Coca-Cola, AT&T, Ford, McDonald’s, State Farm and Walmart are all presenting sponsors of the festival. Additionally, film studios, TV networks and a variety of other companies sign on in various sponsorship capacities in an effort to expand their brand and product awareness.
Here’s a glimpse at some of the brand activations that took place at Essence Festival.
20th Century Fox was on hand to build anticipation for their upcoming movie, “The Hate U Give.” The American crime drama thriller film directed by George Tillman Jr. is based off of a best-selling novel by Angie Thomas. The film stars Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Issa Rae, Algee Smith, Common and Anthony Mackie, among others. Several principal cast members where on hand to promote the film, which opens October 19, 2018, during a variety of events during the Essence Festival.
The cable network Starz held an exclusive brunch at Cochon in New Orleans for the cast of their hit show “Power.” The gritty crime drama created by Courtney A. Kemp and executive produced by rapper/actor 50 Cent has turned its cast into household names. Principal cast members Omari Hardwick, Naturi Naughton, Joseph Sikora and Rotimi were in New Orleans to attend the brunch and attend several additional events to promote the series. “Power” recently returned for season five on July 1 and exploded on the Starz app. The series more than doubled season four’s streaming/video on demand audience and increased its overall network TV viewing audience as well. The show has received an early renewal for season six.
McDonald’s hosted its 15th Annual McDonald’s 365Black Awards at the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans. This year the fast food chain celebrated Political Commentator Symone Sanders, renowned actress/activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, Black Girls CODE CEO Kimberly Bryant and next generation McDonald’s Owner/Operator Monique Vann-Brown. Additionally, college philanthropist Tishauna Wilson was recognized alongside this lineup to receive a $10,000 McDonald’s HBCU Forward Scholarship, facilitated by Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The brunch awards soiree was hosted by actress Essence Atkins and the star-studded event included a musical performance by R&B singer Dave Hollister.
Fox kept the cast of its upcoming sitcom “Rel” very busy during the Essence Festival. The show’s stars, comedian Lil Rel Howery and social media superstar Jess Hilarious participated in numerous promotional events while in New Orleans. The network held a viewing party that showed guests the first episode of the show and featured a Q&A with Howery and Hilarious moderated by fellow comic Roy Wood Jr. The star-studded party featured guests like Loni Love of “The Real,” Sarunas J. Jackson of “Insecure,” actress/screenwriter Lena Waithe, Marque Richardson of “Dear White People,” Omar Dorsey of “Queen Sugar,” and Dennis L. White of “Notorious,” among others.
Barry Jenkins’ anticipated follow-up to his Oscar winning “Moonlight” is the film “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The Annapurna Pictures release is based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin. The film drama adaptation stars Regina King, Stephan James, Kiki Layne, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Brian Tyree Henry and others. Jenkins, King, James and Layne were on hand in New Orleans to promote the movie, participating in various Q&As and panel discussions about the film. “If Beale Street Could Talk” opens in theaters January 11, 2019.
Ford returned to Essence Festival for a 10th year and this year the automotive maker’s brand was 10 Years of Sisterhood. In addition to having their expansive expo exhibit which featured a live broadcast from SiriusXM radio personalities; Ford continued to engage festivalgoers with test drive opportunities in their featured vehicles. As usual, Ford took one day to honor cancer survivors with their Warriors in Pink fashion show. They also hosted their Ford “Good Vibes” Lounge at the Mercedes Benz Superdome that included performances by Jussie Smollett, Big Freedia, MC Lyte and Idris Elba. Ford also had comedienne/actress Yvonne Orji present the winner of a two-year lease of a Ford Explorer to help the winner of their entrepreneurs pitch contest “Go Further” in their business ventures.
HBO hosted a who’s who day party and screening for its hit sitcom “Insecure.” The show’s stars Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji attended the capacity event at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans that featured fine food and plenty of libations. Guests got to see the first episode from season three that will premiere later this summer and learn more about what they can anticipate from this new season. Guests like Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell Martin and Mack Wilds were among those who attended to the hot ticket event.
VIDEO: Check out this video package and check out how brands impact at the Essence Festival.